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Do you want to see the International Space Station? It doesn't take a telescope. Learn these tips from NASA for the best viewing opportunities.

How you can see the International Space Station from Earth

There’s more stuff in the sky to look for besides UFOs. In fact, you can see a place where astronauts allegedly saw UFOs and other strange space phenomena: the International Space Station. 

The International Space Station, or the ISS,  is a “Multinational collaborative project” by several government space programs, including NASA, the European Space Agency, and Roscosmos. It’s the largest space structure that humans have put into space (so far). It’s also the third-brightest object in the sky according to NASA. 

Since it’s so bright, it’s easy to see with the naked eye. Spot the Station is a website run by NASA that lets visitors know how they can spot the International Space Station. It gives viewers a bunch of details about how to spot the ISS. If you’re out at night and wondering where the ISS is, here’s some tips from NASA. 

It looks like an airplane

The International Space Station looks a lot like an airplane, including the red light. However, it’s much higher and moves faster across the sky according to Spot the Station. The ISS orbits Earth at 4.76 miles per second, taking about ninety minutes to orbit Earth, so it could be there & gone in minutes. Literally. Some sightings last only seconds! 

Also, there are times when the International Space Station flies overhead, but it may not be visible, like the middle of the day. To be seen, the ISS needs to be forty-five degrees above the horizon. 

Sighting opportunities

Spot the Station has a page where you can learn when the International Space Station will be visible in your area. Type the name of your town over their map and presto! You can find out the best nights to look for the ISS. 

You’ll also notice numbers on the map. That’s the number of times the International Space Station was spotted in a particular city. Blue pins appear when you click on the map or search your city to show you the nearest sighting opportunities. 

Through NASA, you can also sign up to receive alerts on your phone when the International Space Station will be visible in your area. The alerts may not come every day, or even for a while. The ISS often appears over an area when it’s not visible like during the day. The alerts will let you know when to expect it to appear & disappear in your area in your time zone. 

What’s going on when you see the ISS? 

About 600 miles above Earth, the International Space Station is the home of three to six crew members at a time. Right now, Expedition 63 calls the ISS home. They conduct scientific research & split maintenance duties while on board. NASA reports on what the crew’s up to. These are their latest projects. 

Most recently, the International Space Station crew is focused on developing space agriculture & fortification. On Monday, Commander Chris Cassidy from NASA set up an advanced plant habitat to help grow the produce. The research is part of ongoing botany studies so crew members of the ISS can grow their own produce while in space. 

The Russian cosmonauts at the International Space Station, Anatoly Ivanishin & Ivan Vagner, are conducting experiments to help the ISS withstand micrometeor impacts to cut down on repairs. Also on Monday, they downloaded data to detect where this space debris may hit the ISS and checked hardware. 

Twenty years of the ISS

NASA is counting down to the International Space Station’s 20th anniversary. Meaning, the spacecraft will have been manned continually for 20 years in November 2020. NASA’s website has a countdown clock to the anniversary on its site. 

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